Rocky Mountain News
Parade protesters arraigned

Dozens arrested at Columbus Day event want trials

By April M. Washington, Rocky Mountain News
November 20, 2004

This story should have said a visit by about 60 students from Jefferson County Open School to Denver County Court to watch Columbus Day protesters appear before a judge was a school-sponsored trip. The students did not miss a day of school to attend the court hearings. Also, the name of the school in the story was incorrect. It has been corrected.

More than 150 Columbus Day protesters packed a Denver County courtroom Friday to face charges in connection with blocking the parade last month.

Most pleaded not guilty and demanded a jury trial to put the national holiday itself on trial.

"Our position is that the people in the courtroom aren't guilty of anything," said Glenn T. Morris of the American Indian Movement. "The parade organizers are guilty for engaging in hate speech against indigenous people."

The first wave of protesters were arraigned Friday during two separate court hearings. Another batch of about 50 protesters will be arraigned next Friday.

Last month, Denver police arrested and charged 210 protesters with loitering and failing to obey a direct order to disperse as they sat in the street, blocking the parade for about an hour.

The misdemeanor charges carry a possible penalty of up to a year in jail and a $999 fine.

Assistant City Attorney Robert Reynolds said the city intends to proceed with all 200-plus cases and prosecute them individually if necessary.

"The city's position is that these individuals broke the law, and we're treating them like anybody else," he said. "If you treat them more leniently than anyone else, then we'd be saying on one day a year you can break the law."

In recent years, Denver's Columbus Day events have become a part of a debate over whether Christopher Columbus should be remembered as a heroic explorer or killer of native people.

A multitude of trials could likely bog down court dockets. Both sides said efforts would be made to lump the cases into a few trials in the spirit of expediency.

The defendants are entitled to a jury trial within 90 days of entering a plea. Trial dates could be set between mid-January and early February.

Denver County Court Judges Claudia J. Jordan and Aleene Ortiz-White presided over Friday's hearings. Of nearly a dozen cases challenged, about five were dismissed Friday because of flawed information listed on the citations.

The youngest facing charges was an 11-year-old boy from Denver who pleaded not guilty. About 60 teens from Jefferson County Open School attended on a school-supported trip to support seven of their classmates when each went before the judge to enter a plea.

"Just because something is legal doesn't make it right," said 10th-grader Megan Bunn, 16. "Columbus wasn't a hero."

Weeks leading up to the parade, Columbus Day opponents promised to engage in acts of civil disobedience.

About 600 police in riot gear were deployed around the parade route, which started near Coors Field.

Copyright 2004, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.